If Narendra Modi and Sonia Gandhi can use Pawan Hans helicopters, why can't Mamata Banerjee? --- Trinamool Congress has petitioned Election Commission as the party frantically searched for a helicopter for its chief. High rentals and lack of availability of private copters at the eleventh hour have been cited as impediments in securing a helicopter that will enable Mamata to address poll rallies in and outside Bengal.
Apart from raking up the issue during campaign for Lok Sabha, Trinamool Congress also plans to approach the chief election commissioner, V S Sampath, during his visit to Kolkata this weekend.
"We see with utter dismay Narendra Modi was seen today in television channels using a Pawan Hans helicopter for attending a public rally in Bareily, UP. Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, was also seen on TV using a Pawan Hans helicopter in Karnataka on March 30," read the letter sent by Mukul Roy all India general secretary of the party on April 1, to chief election commissioner.
The issue is also doing rounds in the tweeter world. On Thursday, Derek O Brian Trinamool Congress Rajya MP tweeted "Are helicopters owned by PSUs allowed to be used by political parties during elex? Did SoniaG & Modi fly on Pawan Hans? Enlighten us please."
According to private companies operating helicopters, cost of hiring one at this hour is over Rs 4.60 lakh per hour. Generally private operators are keen on a 45-day period where they charge Rs 16 lakh for four hours including fuel, parking and food for the pilot, which comes to Rs 7.20 crore.
In the absence of helicopters, Mamata has been forced to cancel rallies. On Monday, she reached a meeting in West Midnapore three hours late while the crowd waited under the sun. On Tuesday she was late in reaching a meeting in Tripura. On Wednesday, she cancelled a public rally in Barpeta, Assam; on Friday she has cancelled a meeting at Bhatar, Burdwan.
?After a private helicopter hired by Trinamool developed a snag recently, the party is in a frantic search for helicopters for Mamata Banerjee. Trinamool is unable to charter helicopters from state-run Pawan Hans since it would violate model poll conduct.
Senior leaders are talking to private helicopter providers in Delhi and Mumbai to immediately hire one. In a rally in West Midnapore, Mamata Banerjee claimed the cost of hiring a helicopter at the last moment is very high and she is not keen on doing that since her funds are limited.
Roy has asked EC to clarify whether a private owned commercial helicopter leased out to the government by Pawan Hans has been 'de-hired' and then used by a political party.
Senior party leaders are also trying to get private helicopters from outside the state, even Pawan Hans helicopters which are privately leased.